Right around the time this picture was taken I had my first beer. I know what you are thinking. It’s one of my favorite reactions to get out of people, and it will never get old, ever. I was all of 2 ½ years old (30 months, 913 days).
The picture is also of my dad taken within a few weeks before his exit from this Earth. The stories that surrounded my childhood that my brothers told were impossibly hard to hear, all the camping trips, all of the games, practices, late nights fishing, hunting. I missed out on the man who would become a legend in my life. Stories of the state championship baseball game, unsigned professional baseball contracts, how my parents fell in love and stayed there all became my stories too. I know them well because they have been repeated to me over and over.
A few months before he died I had the opportunity to remember one all of my own. My dad and I were the only ones out in the country of Kimble County on a chilly day. I don’t remember the ride out to his land where he wanted to check traps he had previously set. I also don’t know what he was trapping.
My memory starts when I was interrupted from my happy play in the back of his cherry, red pickup truck. All of a sudden the cool day turned warm, really warm as only a Texas day in the winter can do. I was thirsty, parched really. I looked up to see that he and I were separated by a barbed wire fence. I found my bearings to stand up and call out, “Daddy, I’m thirsty.” He looked at me and gave me a guilty smile that told me he had nothing for me.
He was holding a can of Coors; you know the pale yellow one with the dark blue writing? I eyed his beer and knew there was cold liquid inside. Maybe I saw condensation drips forming on the outside of the can, I can’t say for sure. But my tiny mouth was so dry. Since my first plea yielded nothing from him or the inside of the truck, I pleaded again, “Daddy, I’m thirsty!” I am pretty sure I stomped my foot, but who knows?
He walked closer to me, and his attention felt like all that mattered in the world. He told me, “Baby, all I have is this beer, and you won’t like it.” My mouth was so dry and even though I suspected he was right, I didn’t care. “Give me some!” I screamed.
“Baby, you are NOT going to like it” he called back. “GIVE ME SOME!” I yelled again even louder than before. I was so pleased when I saw both of his hands, beer inside, come towards me. My only memory of ever touching my father was when I put my small hands around his big hands. Hand in hand, the beer can approached my lips. And as memories go, in my mind this part is slow motion.
I remember the smell of the beer. I remember the bubbling in my mouth. I remember that is was cool not cold. It was relief to a dry mouth until my taste buds caught up to the moment that the rest of my senses had already memorized. I tried; I really tried to swallow that vile, nastiness inside of my mouth. My mind told me otherwise. I could not control the knee-jerk reaction to spit it out. Not only did I spit the beer out, but I also spit warm beer directly into my dad’s face.
He had little reaction. He was not angry or upset, maybe he was amused. As he wiped the beer away from is face he said the words I will always remember, “Baby, I told you.” He was neither disappointed nor bothered. He was stating the obvious.
All these years later, I think of what I learned that day. It is the ONLY memory I have of my dad where we were alone. Some of the stories that have been told by my family are a part of my own memory as though I actually could conjure up smells, touches, tastes, but this one is all mine.
We were the only ones on a piece of acreage in Kimble County that day. And he taught me a lesson I have needed to revisit often. And here begins the lesson: There will be things in this world that you think you want. There will be people in your life who will know what you do not already know about yourself. And as you grow and as you desire you will not care for these opinions. You will need to know for yourself. You will need to make your own decisions. But consider the day you had your first beer. You hated it. Sometimes, you need to listen to those who love you.
And for all of you that played ball for him or with him, I had my first beer with Coach Hinds.